Two very large posters

The care and treatment of oversize objects has been on our minds a lot lately. Big paper objects such as movie posters and blueprints are especially susceptible to damage, simply because it can be so difficult to store them safely. Usually, these items get folded or rolled to fit in boxes or mailing tubes.

We recently treated a pair of VERY large posters advertising Spanish bullfighting events in the 1950s. This one was sponsored by the wife of Generalissimo Franco:

These were probably displayed in a train station or other large public building. They are eight feet long – unfortunately, larger than our largest work table. They had been folded up to fit in a box, and were torn and abraded along the folds. The acidic paper was brittle and stiff, making it difficult to unfold the posters, let alone get them to lie flat.

The first order of business was to construct a work surface. We use Plexiglass for all sorts of things in the conservation studio – here, we pushed together our two biggest tables and taped together two big sheets of Plexiglass to make one big smooth surface.

But wait – we didn’t need one work surface, we needed two! Each poster had to be washed to remove acidity from the paper, then backed with a heavy sheet of Japanese paper and allowed to dry on our new, giant table. Where were we going to wash the posters?

Our solution was to make a temporary washing surface on the floor. After a thorough vacuuming and mopping, we covered the floor with heavy plastic and spread several layers of Tek-Wipe sheets on top. This is an absorbent non-woven fabric that looks and feels like paper towel, but is very strong when wet. We saturated the Tek-Wipes with water and laid the poster on top. (The poster is supported with a sheet of Hollytex, a smooth polyester fabric.)

Then we laid another sheet of fabric on top, smoothed the poster out as much as possible, and misted it with enough water to saturate the paper. We let it sit like this for about half an hour, during which time the wet Tek-Wipe sheets drew a fair amount of yellow-brown discoloration from the paper. This whole process was repeated with several changes of sheets, until no more yellow was coming out of the paper.

Now, time for the backing!

This is another multilayered process. First we brush wheat starch paste onto the Plexiglass board, then we lay down a sheet of woven polyester fabric.

The next layer is the Japanese paper backing. We pieced together several smaller sheets to cover this large area. The paste will bond them all together.

Finally, we place the poster on top, smooth out any wrinkles, and let it stretch dry for a week.

Voila! A nice, flat poster. Now the only challenge is to get it packed for shipment…but that’s a story for another day.